My mind has been racing since someone posted on Twitter an extract from the 1952 English FA book ‘Soccer Coaching’ by Walter Winterbottom. The extract although only one page was really thought provoking particularly this
Some of the early ideas of ‘what to coach’ or ‘how to coach’ have changed. Lessons built from unrelated activities like dribbling around sticks and circle heading have been largely abandoned. Today, emphasis is on the applied development of particular skills in settings closely resembling the game itself.
Now this was first published in Jan 1952. Yet about a month ago some 65 years after publication I was an Instructor on a Grassroots Coaching Course (for players U9 or younger) and every Coach there thought that developing ‘technique or skill’ inside a game was a new concept. One Coach who was particularly open to the content of the course was left open mouthed when I said that running around cones with a ball could develop bad habits and there were much better and more enjoyable ways to get practice running with a ball. I think he felt I was insulting an old friend of his.
I am a Technical Director at a club and every new season with new Coaches becoming involved I have to debate using Games Based Training as an alternative to using drills. Each year I have Coaches who it is obvious think that what I am saying is all just a fad and that eventually everyone will see sense and we will all go back to proper coaching.
Seeing this extract on Twitter got me thinking that why if Coaches as prestigious as Walter Winterbottom in 1952 were thinking in this manner then how is it still regarded as a new concept so many years later.
A simple but I don’t think totally accurate answer is that drilling players can be easy. I helped out a friend a few weeks ago as at the last minute as he was going to be short of Coaches at an event. I was asked to take a group of between 12-16 players and do a passing drill with them. I thought I was going to have 3 different groups this size in 15 mins so would have each group for around 4 mins allowing for change over. Instead I had each group for 15 mins straight. In my head I worked out a progression or two and started. I looked over at my friend after about 3 or 4 mins to see how long was left to which he gave me a quizzical look and held up 10 fingers.
Now remember I have not done any passing drills in my own coaching for over 10 years and I now have 10 mins to fill with fourteen U18 players and no idea how to fill it. I simply made it up as I went along and none of the players noticed. With the next two groups I challenged myself to make up something different each time. Basically, if you are confident enough in your delivery you can simply make it all up as you go along because the Coach dictates everything. A player can’t really challenge you because where the ball moves to is down to the Coach.
Like I said I think that is a very simple answer and not totally accurate but I feel it is a part of why isolated practices or drills continue to feature so significantly in a team setting.
Then, for a reason I will explain later, I looked critically at the images I see of football training on telly. Teams preparing for international matches seem to be always running around pitches or doing simple isolated practices while a voiceover describes the star players who are injured or anything newsworthy for the upcoming game.
I have no doubt this is because the cameras are cleared out or not allowed to film any training that may help the Opposition figure out the game plan but the audience just gets to see International players doing isolated practices.
A TV advert for a football camp sponsored by a star player showed him putting the youngsters through their paces and surprise, surprise they ran around cones. Another TV advert showed young players shooting at a professional goalkeeper one at a time after passing to a current professional who set up the shot presumably while all the others stood in line waiting for their turn.
I’ve been involved in filming such adverts and normally it is the cameraman or the photographer, probably with no coaching experience, who dictates what practice is done so they can get a good shot in the shortest possible time. However, to the average Coach it looks as if the International or Professional players are conducting the session so by inference this must be something they do.
Watch any Hollywood film about football and at some point, the player/team will do isolated practices or drills more than likely for the same reason as the adverts but this time the director who probably has no coaching experience is dictating what shots are taken.
I am not a fan now of dribbling a ball around cones but I can remember as a kid following the instructions in the Daily Mirror during Argentina ’78. I placed out some bricks (who had cones in 1978) in a line just like they said and tried to learn to dribble like Mario Kempes in my back yard.
This dribbling drill was probably written by some journalist who has never coached a minute of football in their lives and was simply filling up space in the newspaper but to me I thought I was doing what Argentina were doing at training that very same day.
My trigger for writing the blog in this way was something I saw in an article called ‘Don’t believe everything you see’. Apparently, it takes 5 minutes to knock someone out with a cloth soaked in Chloroform but yet I have seen baddies in movies or TV shows sneaking up on people and rendering them unconscious in a matter of seconds for years. In fact, I saw it in a film only 2 days ago and never questioned it for a second.
My point is this people are surrounded by images of what proper coaching appears to look like for years and so when they become Coaches themselves they believe they already know the basic concepts of coaching. Maybe this is why it is so hard for some Coaches to try to coach another way as it goes against everything they have ever seen about coaching.
Maybe like me with the Chloroform you just accept that is what coaching is and never challenge it.
Just my thoughts but I would be interested to hear from other Coaches.
Look forward to hearing from you
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Till next time